Reimagining the Real China: Dilemmas (and Solutions) of Han-ness and Tradition in China Today.
Kevin Carrico, Lecturer of Chinese Studies, Macquarie University
What, when, and where is the “real China”? According to a growing group of young people in cities across the country, the real China is not to be found in the reality of the present. Instead of the now familiar images of skyscrapers, high-speed trains, new fashion, and globalization, the groups discussed in this talk envision courtyard homes, sacred rituals, traditional robes, and a homogenizing ethnic purity as embodying the proper essence of China, an eternal “land of rites and etiquette.” Drawing upon ethnographic research conducted with members of the Han Clothing Movement and traditionalist educational associations in the Pearl River Delta and beyond published in the recent book The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, this talk examines the rise of social movements dedicated to a fundamentally conservative and homogenizing vision of Chineseness within an increasingly complex society. What are these ethno-traditionalist movements’ main ideals, objectives, and practices? Why have they emerged at this historical moment? Who joins these movements, and what do they derive from their involvement? Yet most importantly, is their essentialist “real China” of the past any more real than the present? And what are the repercussions of these tensions between reality and imagining, or between actuality and ideals, in the experience of national identity in general?